The most common treatments for cancer include surgery and therapy methods such as radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. The treatment strategy is based on a variety of factors like the type and stage of cancer, physical conditions, and opinions of the patient and their family.
Out of the therapy options, chemotherapy has been the main course of treatment since the 1940s. By the 2000s, cytotoxic agents and targeted agents were introduced, proven to be better effective yet only 10% of the cancer patients were eligible. The third generation treatment, immunotherapy, has been on the rise recently since 2010, giving hope to many cancer patients.
So what exactly is immunotherapy, and how is it different from other types of treatment?
Cytotoxic agents and targeted agents directly attack cancer cells, but immunotherapy activates the immune system to destroy cancer cells. Our immune system protects our body by removing foreign contaminants or internal toxins. Immunotherapy can treat cancer by helping our immune system to identify cancer cells as hazardous and attack them.
Immunotherapy results in much less side effects and resistance, and has greater efficacy to a variety of different cancer types. The former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, is known for fully recovering from his metastatic melanoma through immunotherapy.
But not everyone can receive immunotherapy. Based on the stage of the cancer and the spread and density of immunocytes within the cancer tissue, a single immunotherapy agent can have very different effects on each patient. So only those patients with clinically proven indications can undergo immunotherapy. Cancer patients have limited window of treatment, and immunotherapy tends to be very expensive, so the efficacy must be confirmed before the treatment can begin.
How do we know immunotherapy will work on someone?